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Umberto Giordano: Marcella
11 Oct 2009

Giordano: Marcella

Although this DVD comes on the Naxos label, an earlier CD version of the same performance went under the Dynamic label, specialists in rare repertory.

Umberto Giordano: Marcella

Marcella: Serena Daolio; Giorgio: Danilo Formaggia; Drasco: Pierluigi Dilengite; Clara: Natalizia Carone; Raimonda: Angelica Girardi; Eliana: Mara D'Antini; Lea: Maria Rosa Rondinelli; Vernier: Marcello Rosiello; Barthélemy: Giovanni Coletta; Flament: Graziano De Pace. Slovak Chamber Choir. Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia. Manlio Benzi, conductor. Alessio Pizzech, stage director. Filmed at the Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy, on 4-6 August 2007 as part of the 33rd Festival of the Valle d'Itria, Italy.

Naxos 2.110263 [DVD]

$9.99  Click to buy

Umberto Giordano’s Marcella certainly qualifies as rare - a one-act opera in three episodes, under 70 minutes in length. This mid-career work came after Giordano’s early successes (notably Andrea Chenier), and according to Paul Campion in his fine booklet essay, it “did not appeal to its early audiences,” and later audiences had next to no opportunity to see it at all. One later performance, given “shortly before the Second World War,” might well have been the one to show the work at its best advantage - the cast featured Magda Olivero in the title role with Tito Schipa as her partner.

The Dynamic/Naxos cast, caught at a 2007 staging at the festival Valle D’Italia, pose no threats to the memories of Olivero and Schipa’s careers. Serena Daolio as Marcella must strike us as an unworldly, even timid woman who finds herself passionately and helplessly in love with Giorgio (Danilo Formaggia). Giordano’s compositional style had not progressed much from his more famous work of previous years. Marcella and Giorgio both require ample, rich voices who can pour out their romantic exultations and trauma tirelessly. Without distinctive voices, the effect becomes tiresome, and neither Daolio nor Formaggia have much character to their instruments. She tightens at the top, and he has a darker timbre prone to weak intonation.

Even singers such as Olivero and Schipa probably couldn’t do much to make this opera a success. The story feels both unoriginal and overextended, even at 66 minutes. The first episode takes place in a lively restaurant, rather too schematically designed to have a choral number and some other character interaction before the opera comes down to its essential two-character core. Marcella runs in, scared by some inappropriate behavior (very vague in nature) from a crowd outside. Giorgio comforts her. What she doesn’t know is that Giorgio (in a plot twist too reminiscent of operetta librettos) is a prince in disguise, out to see the world away from the pressures of the court. Giorgio and Marcella fall in love; he idly dreaming that he can escape his responsibilities indefinitely. But he can’t, and Marcella makes a tearful goodbye, realizing she could never be his consort. Improbable and yet uninteresting, this narrative provides very weak support for Giordano’s overheated style, and his melodic invention never catches fire.

Director Alessio Pizzechi tries to bring the piece to life, including having some ladies of doubtful repute traipse in their undergarments through the restaurant. Michele Riccairini’s sets look best in the wooden simplicity of the country home Giorgio and Marcella repair to in the last two episodes. Manlio Benzi conducts the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, producing a warm, excited sound suitable to the score.

If any fan of Giordano’s must have this piece, the DVD has sound as good as the CD, and at least some modest visual appeal. But Marcella the opera is unlikely to have any happier fate that its title character endures.

Chris Mullins

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